October 11, 2014: Gramma Lou

Gram with her dog, Max
This blog on Gramma Lou has sat in my "draft" folder for close to a year. My delay in posting had no ulterior motive other than my fear of not doing it justice.

My apparent passive aggressiveness stemmed from 1) not wanting to project having a superior relationship simply by being the one to pen the story and 2) making sure this little story adequately reflected the spirit of woman who lived life large and with meaning.

Today my heart told me it was time to pull out this draft. Messages come in various forms. For me, it was through a brewery tour.

I thought about Gramma Lou as I listened to a cute young beer guide talk about prohibition. I couldn't stop from smiling.

One of my favorite stories to tell relates to my former grandma-by-marriage. Although she has since passed away, I was still married at the time of her death. I guess I can technically still refer to her as Grandma. Thank goodness. Because any other reference would just make me sad. Gramma Lou was one heck of a lady in addition to a renowned bar-owner emeritus from South Omaha .

Prohibition. That was a product of the 18th amendment. Gramma Lou thought this particular amendment was to repeal prohibition (which was actually the 21st). So that's what she named her bar. The 18th Amendment. And people loved it. It was the most popular bar in south central Omaha in the late 80's and early 90's. With affection, every 40-something in Omaha has a fond memory of the 18th Amendment establishment. The misnaming made it even more enduring.

Today as I walked through the brewery with Zach and his friend, Nick; the tour guide talked about prohibition and its effect on the start of their Colorado beer producing.

Reference to these amendments made me fondly smile over the gregarious Lucille Coschka. Bar-owner extraordinaire, Mom, Grandma, loving dog-owner, traveling Mrs. Claus, and friend to anyone needing a friend.

Reverting back to my fear of inappropriately projecting my relationship with Lou in an elevated light, I need to make a personal disclaimer. It's not true. I am just the ghost writer. That's it. I write what I feel and what I have experienced, but that doesn't make my experiences any better than the many others who have been a part of Lou's world. I am just here to tell my story.

And my story brings me a smile. Although a blip in the screen of Lou's big life, she had a huge impact on me at an early age. During a transitional time in my life, I spent a summer living with Gramma Lou. I was 20 years old. Although I lived with her for only 3 short months, I learned many life lessons that summer of 1989. I was Lou's quiet sidekick. With 50 years between us, I found it hard to keep up with this energetic woman with so much to teach and give.

Scott and I graduated from college in May of 1989. In the final weeks before graduation, I was offered a job in Omaha. Scott was going through the steps of being hired in law enforcement. Due to the restrictions placed within governmental hiring, the soonest he would start would be fall of the same year. With one job secured and no apartment, Gramma Lou and her husband, Gene, opened their home to us for the summer.

With a car heaped of clothes and belongings moved straight from our dorm rooms, we traveled to Omaha and unpacked in Lou and Gene's apartment. They had recently downsized to be close to Gene's sons' nearby bar. I started my job at Peter Kiewit as a staff accountant and Scott started working part-time at the 18th Amendment as he continued through the hiring process for his future job.

Grateful for this kind act by a grandma who wasn't actually mine, I was shown to my room which included a trundle bed draped in a billowing flowery comforter with matching curtains. The room's side use was a sewing room.

I thanked Lou profusely for this kindness, but she only waved her hand and asked me to stop. With no reservation, she opened her home to me, expecting nothing in return. I soon learned that I was one of many on a long list of recipients of Gramma Lou's hospitality.

As I worked by day, Scott worked by night. I found myself in the middle of Lou and Gene's evening routine of dinner, crossword puzzles, and neighborhood walks. I soon found myself helping Gramma Lou preparing for weekly garage sales out of their rented apartment garage and assisting her in preparing crock pots of free food for the bar's happy hour.

Lou continued her daily routine of making rounds to the bar, visiting home bound friends, and making neighborhood stops. But now she had me at her side. My 20 year-old self was too young for the bar, but of the perfect age to be mentored by one sharp and kind-hearted grandma.  

Our nightly stops included visiting patients at Bergan Mercy Hospital as Gramma had a list of those who needed a nightly visitor. We dropped off left-overs from our nightly meals to the home bound friends. A constant trip was to a local department store where we would rummage through racks for the latest fashionable suits, with steep discounts courtesy of Lou's close friend, Charlotte.

Who knew that spending Friday nights in dressing rooms two 70 year-old women would be more fun than the bar scene? I quickly found myself mesmerized in their conversations of years past and laughs on days present.

The summer passed quickly with my 21st birthday in September and a secured apartment of our own. Gram helped decorate our first apartment with flashy hummingbird curtains from Goodwill and a vintage Singer sewing machine she found at a garage sale. A touch of Gram's flair appropriately carried with her into this first apartment.

The golden summer came to a close and real life began. It has taken me many years to realize the significance of that summer.

Gramma Lou taught me how to act with heart at a very young and pivotal age. While others were enjoying the 18th Amendment, my prohibition due to age allowed me to watch the bar lady display her heart and soul in all she did. I was merely her young apprentice.

Life was large that summer of 1989. Lou showed me how to care without making people feel needy and how to give without asking for anything in return. I thought I understood at the time, but it really took years and age to fully appreciate Gramma's art of giving. She was the master. And even better, she did it with purity of motive.

So that's my story. My story of Gramma Lou. There were many more memories post-summer of 1989 to the year Gramma died in the fall of 2007. But the stories and lessons from the this summer resonate the most in my memory.

When Gramma Lou died, I was asked to give her friend, Charlotte, a ride to the cemetery. Charlotte and Lou had been lifelong friends since their early years of working at Western Union together.

Two working women in days when women were a minority with men abound in the workplace. I admired them both for this as I listened to their stories while trying on our suits in the dressing rooms of Younkers.

When we buried Lou, I watched Charlotte mourn the loss of her dear friend, so many years after they first met. It was apparent that my summer with Lou was small in comparison to her lifetime of memories with Charlotte. Laughs, smiles, hard work to help others, and pure enjoyment of living life in friendship and love.

Charlotte gave me a pink ribbon pin that day. When it doesn't sit in my jewelry cabinet, it is pinned on the lapel of my coat. I smile each time I see it, remembering the lessons learned from our mutual friend, the woman of prohibition. A trend-setter. An influencer. Again I am always reminded, the best life lessons live forever.


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